SK: It was about the energy, how I felt the three of us were performing together. For me the basic premise of a trio is the musical conversation. Theoretically I'm the leader, but we're all in it at the same level as far as I'm concerned. And the music can go any way. I'm playing and Ron does something that catches my ear and I'll go with that, or Al does something....It's not about me and accompaniment. The essence of improvised music is conversation in a small group context....I learned that early on from two triosthe Ahmad Jamal Trio, which I heard growing up, and the Bill Evans Trio. Those two trios defined for me what musical conversation is, and I've kept that in mind all these years.
AAJ: What do you look for in your musical counterparts?
SK: [The musicians I work with] are all extremely talented....and they know the history of the music. That's the most important thing. You can hear in their playing that they really know where all this stuff came from, that it didn't start with John Coltrane in 1965. With this trio, Al and Ron, because we're all of an age, with similar musical backgroundsI shouldn't say it's easier, but it's different. The trio runs itself. Sometimes with [with younger players] I have to be more of a leader, in a sense. Which I don't mind doing....I learn from the younger players all the time....It's a win-win situation.
AAJ: In your five decades of performing, you've seen so much happen in jazz. Where do you see it headed as an art form?
SK: I think the music may have run its course, frankly, and what we hear now is retro, the younger musicians going back to bebop. There hasn't been anything new, or evolutionary, or revolutionary. There's nothing wrong with that. Certainly there's enough in [jazz] to go on for years and years and years. Now younger musicians are rediscovering stuff, and that's all great. Some of these young kids play their asses off. But in terms of innovation, I haven't heard it. Usually there is a musician who'll come along and change the face of the music like Miles or Bird or Coltrane or Ornette did. Who today has really taken the music to the next step? I would ask that question.
AAJ: Tell us about what it's like to be with Blue Note.
SK: I've been listening to Blue Note Records for many years, as a kid and in high school, and at this stage of my life, to sign with Blue Note Records....I told Bruce Lundvall [CEO of Blue Note Records], it almost brought me to tears. It is really quite special.
Steve Kuhn, Live at Birdland (Blue Note, 2007)
Steve Kuhn, Seasons of Romance (Postcards, 1995)
Steve Kuhn, Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 13 (Concord, 1990)
Steve Kuhn, Mostly Ballads (New World, 1984)
Steve Kuhn/Sheila Jordan, Last Year's Waltz (ECM, 1981)
Pete LaRoca, Basra (Blue Note, 1965)